Sunday, March 29, 2015

In defense of NSA ("no strings attached")...sort of

They're probably my three least favorite letters in gay life: NSA, aka "no strings attached."

Even if I wasn't completely over acronyms, I'd probably never actually use this one in everyday conversation. In the gay lexicon, it's something considerably colder and less romantic than the straight version of NSA that inspired the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman rom-com No Strings Attached, which was not about puppet love.

In the cinematic version of NSA (and, by extension, the straight one), there's more of a human element. It's a lot like the "friends with benefits" thing also documented in a movie (starring Justin Timberlake, whose former group NSYNC once released an album called No Strings Attached, and Kutcher's future wife and Portman's Black Swan costar, Mila Kunis).

Gay NSA is generally less personal or personable, at least as I understand it in Grindr-speak. Size (Hung?) and preferred position (Top or bottom?) are far more important than pesky details like names. Yes, it's as incredibly unsexy as it sounds, but when you wake up horny craving sex for breakfast, it's a pretty expedient way to satisfy morning hunger.

I presume the reason why the old, antiquated phrase "one-night stand" doesn't apply is because the peak NSA hours tend to be right before and after dawn when gay men seem to be at their horniest. "Anonymous sex" is apparently also passe, probably because it sounds too brutal and unfeeling, and "casual sex" sounds like you're watching a ball game at the same time. "NSA" may be direct and a little lazy (which doesn't necessarily bode well for the sex), but it's vague enough to almost pass for something people do in polite company.

I spent many years being wary of NSA under all of its names, and I still cringe a little every time I see those three letters on Grindr. Would it kill guys to pursue it without spelling it out? Shouldn't it be understood that if you have sex with a stranger there won't be strings attached?

What un-deluded gay man is dreaming of a white picket fence and mentally picking out matching wedding bands while riding home in a taxi with the boy he just met. Even in Buenos Aires, where porteño guys would often drop "Te quiero" (I love you) before the cab reached its destination, I knew better than to ever take them seriously.

All that said, I used to pride myself on never hooking up with anyone I wouldn't be open to seeing again, even ones I met on holiday -- or ones who were on holiday when I met them. Paolo, one of the two great loves of my life, was visiting New York City from Milan when he and I met. That our relationship (doomed as it was) ended up unfolding on three different continents over the course of nearly a decade is proof that anything can happen between two strangers in the night if both are open to it.

Then one depressing birthday (incidentally, the one after I saw Paolo for the final time), I decided to throw caution and moralizing to the wind and take the NSA plunge. I'm terrible at names anyway, and I rarely remember them, so would it kill me to not bother asking?

The experience itself was unmemorable, but I'll never forget the way it made me feel -- not cheap and dirty, as I was expecting, but strangely liberated and, well, clean. There were no messy emotions. I was able to turn off my brain in a way I couldn't before when I was half thinking about the future. If I was never going to see him again, who cared what he thought about me? I could go way out of character for once and just live in the moment.

But once the moment was over, there was nothing, no future prospect, not even afterglow, which has always been my second favorite movement in the extended sex suite (my favorite being the dance leading up to the first kiss). That's the downside of NSA, and as a cuddler/spooner, it's a pretty major one. I was proud of myself for giving it a go, and I could finally say I understood why people do it, but it wasn't really me.

It's still not, but I have an even better understanding of it today than I did right after that mind-opening birthday. I think that for some, NSA is almost a form of armor, especially in a city like Sydney where, to quote the guy at the 2:19 point in this clip, nothing means anything. If he's just a body, not a person, he can't hurt you.

And if you're after instant gratification -- and in the Grindr age, nearly everyone seems to be? -- NSA is the uncomplicated way to get it. You can turn off your mind and just enjoy now. Who cares if you don't remember it an hour later? There'll be another new NSA session soon enough, if you want it, because there's always another hot guy "looking." (And "hot" is key to NSA because if personality isn't going to be a factor, the NSA prospect has only the physical to work in his favor.)

It'll probably never be my thing because my brain is too pivotal to my turn-on process and living in the future is just part of my character. But now that I understand NSA, it's easier to live with it. And if I do decide to go there, I know I won't have to worry about making awkward conversation or how to delicately usher him out the door in the unlikely event that I want to skip afterglow.

By the time I think of an excuse why he can't stay, he'll probably be already gone.

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